DENVER — The term “tank win” is one we will use a lot throughout this season. What is a “tank win?” It is a loss in the standings, which is what you want, but it has some positives to take away and move forward. The Chicago Blackhawks did not have the horses to run with the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night, but they were able to hang with them for portions of their 5-2 loss. You cannot question the compete level and effort this team gave in Denver. The Blackhawks tried their best to hang with the Stanley Cup champions but were doomed by too many penalties.
1. No Room for Error
The Blackhawks had to wait 49 minutes from the end of pregame warmups until the opening faceoff. Not to mention, they were in a hostile environment that was ramped up after one final celebration of the 2022 Stanley Cup team. A fast start would be critical if they wanted any chance of upsetting the reigning champs in their building.
“It’s any other game for us,” Mackenzie Entwistle said after the morning skate.” We know they are going to be out there for a while, so coming out and having a strong start is going to be critical for us.”
After losing the opening faceoff, the Avalanche spent the first couple of shifts in the Chicago zone. They got a power play seven minutes into the game thanks to a Tyler Johnson slash, but the Blackhawks were able to kill it. The start wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible, either. Yes, the talent gap was noticeable, but the team did not back down. They finished their checks and did their best to go toe-to-toe with the champs.
However, they could not get the all-important opening goal. A Jujhar Khaira turnover quickly led to an Andrew Cogliano redirect goal. This team cannot afford to shoot themselves in the foot if they want to stay close in games. At the end of the first period, the Blackhawks had seven shot attempts compared to 17 by Colorado, and they were down 2-1.
2. Far Too Many Trips to the Box
With a roster that will struggle to score goals, special teams will be a huge factor for the Blackhawks on a nightly basis. Head coach Luke Richardson preached about not taking bad penalties before the game.
“We have to play disciplined with our sticks and still play hard and play disciplined with our game plan and try to stay out of the box as much as possible,” he said. “And if we can do that, we can really concentrate on killing one or two good penalties. That means you’re disrupting a goal, a scoring chance, or taking a chance away from them that they’re going to put you in a vulnerable position.”
The Blackhawks took six penalties, many of which were of the variety Richardson did not want to see, including a second-period interference penalty on Jonathan Toews, standing in front of the Colorado net. The Avalanche made them pay by scoring a trio of power-play goals to turn a 1-1 tie into a 5-2 victory.
“You know what to expect against this team in their building,” Toews said after the game. “Banner-raising night, they’re excited, and they’re obviously going to play with a lot of adrenaline. And I think we did a good job of staying out of trouble in the first period, not playing into their game, and making it too easy on them. I think there are just situations where we get stuck out there too long, or we don’t manage the puck or whatever — these little things are easy to work on and adjust. But when we keep doing that, we put ourselves in bad positions, and I think they feed off it, and we ended up taking some penalties to try and survive.”
This team is not talented enough to survive self-inflicted wounds and needs to play more discipline going forward.
3. Lack of Shots is Still a Problem
The Blackhawks getting shots on net was a serious issue throughout the preseason. While none of those games counted, there were concerning trends heading into tonight’s tilt in Denver. It wasn’t just the shots on goal that were alarming; the lack of shot attempts raised red flags.
The Blackhawks had just seven shot attempts in the first period. We can give a bit of a pass, as they spent six minutes on the penalty kill. Things picked up a bit in the second period with 15 shot attempts, but only six got on net. They finished the night with just 34 shot attempts, 17 of which made it on goal.
Yes, it is hard to generate offense when you take six penalties. But, at 5v5, the game was not as lopsided as one may have expected. Richardson was happy with how the team played in the first and third periods. However, too many trips to the offensive zone were wasted with no shot attempts. Hopefully, this team will begin to feel more urgency with the puck and become more aggressive. They may not get many chances on a nightly basis, so they must take advantage of every opportunity in the offensive zone.
Bonus Hit: Two Glimmers of Positivity
It will be exhausting to just talk about the losses and talent gap all season long, so we should focus on two positives from the opening night loss. First, the Blackhawks scored two power-play goals. The first came from Toews, who took 26 games to find the back of the net last season. Max Domi netted his first goal with the team in the third period. It was a performance the Blackhawks can build off and get some confidence going.
Also, the Blackhawks won 61 percent of the faceoffs tonight and did not have a single player under 50 percent.
The Blackhawks won’t have long to wallow in this loss as they quickly move on to Las Vegas to take on the Golden Knights on Thursday night. As always, the CHGO Blackhawks crew will be live following the game to give a recap and our takes on the action.